A free, simple screening for lung cancer can save patient money while building a healthy relationship for any medical needs they may have in the future. The research, published in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery, shows the partnership can be beneficial for patients looking for cardiology specialists, family medical care and other health-related issues, as well as for medical facilities that offer the free screening.

"The researcher mission is to find lung cancer earlier," said Dr. Carsten Schroeder, thoracicsurgical oncologist at the Georgia Cancer Center and Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. "If we find a nodule in the lung that's in the later stages,survival rate is much worse than if we find it earlier. "

In the paper, "Financial analysis of free lung cancer screening shows profitability using broader NCCN Guidelines," Schroeder and his team analyzed fiscal years 2015-17 patients with positive scans and other findings.

"In all, we have 1,600 people on the screening list," Schroeder said. "Of those, 1,200 haveactuallyhad a scan. In just over 2 percent of those patients, we found lung cancer. The remaining 400 people do not meet the necessary criteria. " 

Lung screen program

The idea to develop the free lung screen program started after a major research paper was published in the summer of 2011. The National Cancer Institute's National Lung Screening Trial, which included 50,000 people, showed a computerized tomography (CT) screening is better than chest x-ray for screening for lung cancer.

"There was a 20% increase in the survival rate for those patients who had the CT screening," Schroeder said. "This paper was the one thatserved as a catalyst for The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to start covering the cost of screening for patients. " While patients need to have health insurance to qualify for the lung screening program, there are some criteria they must meet.

Group 1:

1. 55-75 years old.

2. Currently, a smoker or have quit within the past 15 years.

3. Smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for 30+ years.

Group 2:

1. 50-75 years old.

2. Smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for the 20+ year.

3. Have at least one of the following additional lung cancer risks:

       i. Family history – parent, sibling or child of lung cancer.

       ii. Emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

       iii. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

       iv. Long-term exposure to asbestos.

       v. Asbestos-related lung disease or pulmonary asbestosis.

       vi. Long term exposure to silica, cadmium, arsenic, beryllium, chromium, diesel fumes, nickel, radon, uranium or coal smoke, and soot. 

One major factor influencing the profitability of a free screening is the ability to use the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines, which covers Group 2 of eligible patients.

Currently, no other hospitals or medical centers in Augusta's River Region can use NCCN guidelines because they charge patients for a lung screening. Using the NCCN guidelines allowed Schroeder and his team to detect twice the number of lung cancers than if they had only screened Group 1.

" The free lung screening program is a win for the communities we serve and for the hospital system," Schroeder said. "The researcher bring them in for a free screening, which serves as a starting point for their medical care and health needs for the rest of their lives."